The covenant specifies a series of blessings and curses that follow upon national obedience or disobedience to the law. These
are modeled after ancient Near Eastern state treaties, in which the consequences of breach of the treaty are spelled out at
its conclusion; this chapter has several close parallels to the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon (VTE), a Neo‐Assyrian treaty dating to 672 BCE. The disproportion between the sections devoted to blessing (vv. 1–14
) and to curse (vv. 15–68
) may be a reaction to the Babylonian conquest, deportation, and exile of Judah (597 and 586 BCE), here recast as a prophetic warning. Two appendices, vv. 47–57 and 58–68
, each seek to make theological sense of that catastrophe. The two other legal collections of the Pentateuch (the Covenant
Collection of Ex 21–23
; the Holiness Collection of Lev 17–26
) similarly end with exhortations to obedience, accompanied by blessings and curses (Ex 23.20–33; Lev 26
). Here an inclusio frames and defines the blessings section: if you … obey … by diligently observing (vv. 1,13
The proem emphasizes the conditionality of the exalted status of Israel, erhaps because of the exile. High above all the nations (see also v. 13
), a metaphor for the nation's election, also applied to the Davidic dynasty (Ps 89.27
). (Contrast 26.19
, where this affirmation is unconditional, fulfilling God's past promises.)
The six benedictions have their malediction counterpart at vv. 16–19
. The two antonym pairs (vv. 3,6
) provide a frame to the unit. The opposites form a merism to stress totality (like “night and day”); see 6.7n.
City and field, “everywhere,” urban and rural.
Fruit … livestock, fecundity is contingent upon obedience to God; see 7.12–14n.
Military success is conditional upon covenantal obedience, rather than strength of arms (
9.1–3; Josh 1.6–8
The Lord will establish … if you keep, holiness is conditional upon obedience, a shift from other passages where Israel's holiness is not future but present, and
not conditional but unconditional (
7.6; 14.2; cf. 26.19
Called by the name of the Lord, relationship with God includes accountability and corresponding divine oversight. The formula can apply to either the nation
(here; 2 Chr 7.14; Isa 63.19; Jer 14.9
) or an individual (Ex 33.12; Jer 15.16
Storehouse, in Israelite and Near Eastern cosmology, primordial waters above the dome of the sky were released as rain (Gen 1.7; 7.11
). Lend … borrow, see 15.6
A broad range of misfortunes, from infertility to military defeat (vv. 15–46
), precede a second section (vv. 47–68
) on foreign invasion, siege, national defeat, and exile, a reversal of the covenantal promises and of the nation's history
of salvation: By disobeying the covenant, the nation undoes its own history.
A chiastic inclusio frames the section: the initial sequence AB (not obey … observing, curses … overtake, v. 15
) is repeated at the end as B′A′ (curses … overtaking, not obey … observing, v. 45
A negation of v. 1
Negating vv. 3–6
Corresponding to the tripartite blessing for obedience (v. 8
) stands the triple threat of disaster [better, “curse”], panic, and frustration. The threats are spelled out in vv. 21–44
. Me, the first‐person reference shifts from Moses to God, as at
This section echoes treaties that the Neo–Assyrian empire imposed on its vassal states, suggesting that the curse section
of these state treaties, perhaps in Aramaic translation, provided a model for this chapter. Judah was a vassal to the Assyrian
empire (2 Kings 18.13–18
) and both Neo‐Assyrian and Judean officials spoke Aramaic (2 Kings 18.26–27
Bronze … iron, see VTE § § 63–64: “May [the gods] make your ground like iron … Just as rain does not fall from a bronze sky …”
Negates v. 7
Even executed criminals must be buried by sundown, lest the corpse become carrion (
); abrogation of that law underscores the punishment's horror (Jer 7.33
The apparently arbitrary sequence of punishments corresponds to VTE § § 39–43, where each curse is associated with a particular Neo‐Assyrian god: the moon god Sin with leprosy; the sun god
Shamash, blindness; and Dilipat (the planet Venus), rape, dispossession, and pillage.
Boils of Egypt, inversion of
. See Ex 9.9–11
Blindness, Shamash, the god of justice, punishes disobedience by withholding light and vision; this punishment entails the breakdown
of civil order and legal standards.
Woman … house … vineyard, contrast
, which provides the same conditions for exemption from conscription, in different order.
The sale of the children to foreigners as slaves guarantees their non‐return (Gen 37.25–38
Both the Neo‐Assyrian army (2 Kings 17
) and the Neo‐Babylonian invaders (2 Kings 24–25
) practiced deportation.
Byword, the opposite idea was central to God's covenant with Abraham, whose people were to become the paradigm of divine providence
Futility curses. The frustration of human labor through infertility of the harvest (caused by invasion from insects or other
natural enemies) is punishment for infringement of the covenant (Lev 26.20; Am 4.7–12
), reversing the blessings of vv. 7–15
Reversing vv. 12b–13
A sign and a portent, the normal phrase for miracles God performed on behalf of Israel at the time of the Exodus, “signs and wonders” (
4.34; 6.22; 7.19; 29.3; 34.11; Ex 7.3; 8.23; 10.1–2; 11.9–10
), in the singular here designates the divine punishment of Israel.
A later appendix, outside the frame provided by vv. 45–46
Because you did not serve, the future curse is based upon wrongdoing in the past, in contrast to the conditional, future formulation of v. 15
, which presents disobedience as a future possibility. Abundance, prosperity in the land will cause Israel to forget its source (see 6.11–12; 8.11–20; 33.15
The punishment corresponds precisely to the offense: Serve means both sacrificial worship of God (
) and labor as a servant or slave (
). Iron yoke, symbolizing vassal status, as in Jer 27–28
Systematic presentation of foreign conquest, proceeding from invasion (vv. 48–50
), to the invaders’ plunder and despoiling of the land (v. 51
), to crippling siege (v. 52
), and culminating in the horrors of starvation that arise from the siege (vv. 53–57
). These descriptions of the invader and of the consequences of the siege are based upon the literary model of the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon.
Closely parallels Jer 5.15–19
Like an eagle, cf. Ezek 17.3
,7; Hab 1.8
Contrast the idealist war laws of
, which prohibit occupiers from despoiling the land.
It shall besiege you … until your … walls … come down, the Neo‐Assyrian (2 Kings 17.5
) and Babylonian armies (2 Kings 24.3; 25.1–7
) employed advanced engineering to mount a siege campaign involving ramparts, battering rams, and catapults.
The starvation resulting from the siege causes a complete breakdown of the normal social order, as parents become predators
of their children and family members compete for food. For cannibalism under siege conditions, see Lev 26.29; 2 Kings 6.28–32; Jer 19.9; Lam 4.10; Ezek 5.10
; and VTE § § 47,69,71,75.
This seems to represent a third layer to the chapter.
This book, how the commandments have become transformed from oral proclamation to written text is unexplained, since it is not until
,24 that Moses commands that the Torah be put into writing. Moreover, hitherto the required obedience was to the plural “commandments”
). Here, for the first time in the chapter, Israel must obey a codified, single law (better, “Torah” or “teaching”). This … name, NRSV should have capitalized “Name” to clarify its distinctive use; it stands directly for God (elsewhere in the Pentateuch
only Lev 24.11
Consistent with the “book” perspective, the consequences for breach of the written Torah have a different focus: a systematic
reversal of the national history, covenantal promises, and theology included in that Torah. The punishment amounts to an anti‐Torah
that will dissolve the national identity.
After the miracle of the Exodus, God had promised, if the people obeyed, “I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that
I brought upon the Egyptians” (Ex 15.26
Stars … heaven, God will cancel the promise made to Abraham that his people shall be as numerous as the stars of heaven (Gen 15.5–6
Dispossession and exile (as in
4.26; Lev 26.33–39
) rescind the covenantal promise of the land, contravening even the unconditional divine promises of Gen 12.7; 13.17
The double loss of Israel's identity: Dispersion of the population dissolves its political identity, and idol worship dissolves
its religious identity.
In the absence of the national destiny provided by the covenant, historical existence has no meaning.
Forced return to Egypt, where the former taskmasters now spurn Israel's desperate bid to sell itself back into slavery and
thus to undo its own history. For selling oneself into slavery under financial hardship to pay off debts or gain support (“indenture”),
see Lev 25.39
. Route … never see again (cf. 17.16
), reverses the unconditional promise at the time of the Exodus: “the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again”
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